Monday, April 26, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Bakes Cakes

While the feminist in me cringes at the title of this post, allow me to clarify: I am not talking about the June Cleaver baking a cake in high heels while waiting for Ward and the boys to get home kind of baking cakes. I'm talking about the hey it's the love of my life's birthday and since we're not really birthday people and we really like coconut let's give it a try kind of baking cakes.

Here is the cake in question, courtesy of none other than the Barefoot Contessa herself. I will be honest and say that the woman in her twenties that couldn't make rice that I used to be would never have considered buying this cookbook. But H got it for my wedding shower, and it has saved me many a dinner. If there's one thing I now know, it's that Ina didn't buy her fabulous house in the Hamptons with sloppy lasagna.

You will notice there is a long list of ingredients on the right hand side. Again, in my twenties I would have shuddered at the thought of buying all that stuff when there are perfectly good already made cakes in my local grocery store. But I promised L I would give this cake a shot for his birthday and bought what was necessary. Here are some of the highlights (and yes, all FIVE sticks of butter were necessary):

The sifting, mixing, and blending were stressful processes. Ina's directions were so precise, and the book I'm reading now said something like, 'baking is the most unforgiving type of cooking'. So I measured carefully and agonized over just how much grease Ina means when she says, 'grease and flour generously.' Is this generous?

I waited nervously for the cake to finish baking in my oven while wondering if there is a patron saint for making cake come out of the pan in one piece. When it did, I got to work on making the frosting. I am pleased to report that the final product looked like this:

Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. I watched happily as L licked the frosting from the bottom of the mixing bowl and thought I had truly crossed a threshold in woman in her thirties-hood.

We cut into the cake on Saturday night, and while we were with a group of very kind friends who would never tell me otherwise, I think it was a hit. I will say that it tasted good to me, but that is not saying much since right how Taco Bell tastes like a Paris bistro.

Here's what's left after almost three days of picking:

I'm so darned proud of myself over this accomplishment that I have reassessed this whole idea that baking cakes is somehow equivalent to kowtowing to 'the man'. I think life is much simpler than I've made it; even simpler than Ina's step-by-step directions:

A woman in her thirties bakes cakes if she wants to.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Writes Angry Rants

Dear Department of Education,

I'm writing this letter to tell you just how deeply grateful I am for all you have done for me over the last six years of teaching. Tonight, this woman in her thirties is overwhelmed with gratitude.

First, I am so grateful for how you value my time. Today, for example, I spent my entire prep hour on the phone with you and your computer tech support so I could figure out how I could pay you to renew my license. You were obviously frustrated that I don't know your website like the back of my hand. I've thought about it, and you are right. Teachers have tons of time on their hands to surf the web, and I should definitely have memorized the ins and outs of your web directory.

Second, I'm so happy that you make it so difficult to maintain my job. It's nice to know there are people in offices eating doughnuts at 10:30 every morning trying to come up with creative ways of winding up red tape. Just how many units do I need to update my credential? Who is in charge of state-to-state reciprocity? Why do I need to sent yet another set of official transcripts to you? You are so right in your thinking-- I have nothing better to do.

And on that note, thanks for valuing my experience and education. It makes perfect sense to me that a woman in her thirties who has taught in California and overseas in the most difficult high school curriculum on earth would need to re-take classes at $300+ per unit in order to prove that I know what I'm doing. Why value the fact that I have traveled the world, speak a little Chinese, and have taught in various different urban and suburban settings? What makes more sense is to grant tenure to teachers after a few years of teaching and make it impossible for them to leave their state or district for fear of having to repeat the process over again. Teachers are best when they have stayed in their own classroom bubble their entire lives-- that's my motto.

I'm so grateful for my excellent pay. You know that teaching is a great job when people pay (in my case $18,000) for a year of extra schooling to become a teacher. In that year I almost had my car repossessed, worked for free, and slept on my friend's air mattress. But thankfully I was working to become a teacher, where the pay keeps me just squeaking above the poverty line. I went overseas to get paid even less, and this year I took an almost 20% pay cut because I moved states. But all of this is nothing compared to the classes I have to take and the testing I have had to redo. If my math is correct (and it always is-- I'm a teacher), in the next two years I will take home about $2000 in actual pay. But hey-- it's my fault for prioritizing a silly little thing called life experience.

But I must end with my gratitude for my summer vacations, the one benefit I get in my job that you and others who have never taught choose to throw in my face at every opportunity. You really understand what our experience is like all year and totally get that the summer is the one time we can re-assess our curriculum and prioritize professional development. I mean really-- we don't deserve this benefit. Every other job on the planet has a person creating and maintaining a safe and effective learning environment on a daily basis. Every other job requires a person to be 'on' all day, every day. And let's face it-- any schmuck can stand up in front of a room of 18-year-olds and get them to relate to Camus. Existentialism? Duh.

So thanks again. According to your website you put 'kids first', and I think that's important. I think about that every month when I stock up on pens and pencils for my classroom. I think about it every afternoon when my classroom of 37 sophomores complains about the heat. And I will continue to think about it tonight as I grade research papers that I don't have time to grade during the day. I have so much pride in knowing that at least, at the end of the day, it's not what I do in the classroom that counts. What counts is making sure us ungrateful teachers know exactly who we are working for-- you.

Sincerely,
L.Shanna

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Ponders Pregnancy

In my twenties, buying tampons once a month was the extent of my knowledge of the female body. I mean, I knew I had lots of inner workings, and those inner workings needed to be checked once a year, but that was it. Becoming pregnant was something much older women did, and then once that happened I would magically be imparted with the knowledge of how I tick.

That, of course, has not (and does not) happen, but I will say that the miscarriage last year and now being pregnant again has made me marvel at the amazing-ness of the female body. Boys, sorry to tell you this, but your body is rickety treehouse compared to your woman's Taj Mahal. More on this later.

For now, this woman in her thirties is going to marvel at the horomones surging through my body at this very moment, giving life to my green olive sized fetus. Chewbacca is currently developing a liver, spleen, and gall bladder, and all of this is happening inside of me.

And has turned me into a crazy person.

Things that make me cry:
Laundry
Arthur Miller
Commercials about Cheerios
The library
The thought of staying up past 9:30
The Discovery Channel (currently watching 'Life')
Kids who cut school
People who are bad listeners

Things that sound good to me that used to sound pretty gross:
Taco Bell (Bean Burritos. All day. Every day.)
Grilled cheese and honey
Tofurkey
Donuts in the morning

Things that sound gross to me that used to sound pretty good:
Avocados
Wine
Citrus fruits
Salad
Grocery shopping
Water (WATER?!)
The Food Network

Things I can't get enough of:
Milk
Sleep
Quaker Oatmeal Squares
Sleep

I am told that in a few weeks this woman in her thirties will go back to her avocado-eating, breakdown-avoiding ways. In the meantime, I'll be sobbing over the book I'm reading with the skater kids at TB.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Contemplates Suicide

This week I learned that a boy at my school, a freshman and the brother of one of my students, died by his own hand. He was fourteen. It would be accurate to say that this has been a week of card-making and heavy boots.

This morning was the funeral. I got ready slowly, looking at the clock and thinking, 'Gee, this morning would be a great morning to wash my baseboards' and 'I mean I guess I really don't have to go, I mean not really.' This is what all three of my therapists have called my tendency to avoid, push aside, and or swallow pain and let it fester, like cancer, in my chest. Therapists get paid way too much money to state the obvious, in my opinion.

But of course this is not my pain. I went today for my student, because that's what teachers do. I listened to stories about this young person, searched in his eyes while they displayed his pictures, and sat broken hearted for his mother listening to Amazing Grace. I looked at his sister, the one whom I will somehow have to teach in the coming weeks that Sophocles gives life purpose, and my boots got heavier and heavier.

So I thought about Taco Bell, and how awesome a bean burrito sounded. I thought about how gorgeous it is outside, and how I've never been to a funeral in my entire life where the sun wasn't shining so brightly that, mercifully, people are able to hide their swollen eyes with sunglasses. I willed myself to be anywhere but in that place.

I loitered in the entrance to the church for a long time after the service. I would be lying if I said I wanted to give comfort to the other people there I knew, teachers especially, who carry the weight of this child's death as though he was their own son. I stood there hoping that I could avoid that receiving line, that it would somehow dissipate and I would be spared the agony of having to look in the face of (another) mother who has just lost her only son.

Taco Bell, I thought. Baseboards. Something else.

When I finally mustered up the courage to leave, I put my arms around my student and said something dumb like, 'Anything at all I can do'. When I burst out of the church doors I felt the warmth of the afternoon sun and the shameful release of a million pounds from my chest.

A woman in her thirties can be such a coward, I thought to myself. Then I took my sunglasses out of my purse so I could finally cry for the loss of a young life, and because the sunlight was so bright and so beautiful, it was just too much to take.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Woman in her Thirties Digs the Beat

The last few weeks have been scary. It's kind of like when you're in high school and you know that homecoming is coming up and you really want to go, but you were asked to homecoming once before and the guy that you went with either stood you up or spent the whole night dancing with another girl and you think to yourself, 'Jeez, I thought homecoming was going to be awesome. I guess it's just like that in the movies.' So when homecoming rolls back around you think you want to go and you want to get excited but you've been scarred by the bad experience.

In the spirit of beating a metaphor into the ground until it dies, let's just say that I was invited to homecoming again a few weeks ago. My invitation looked like this:


I was so excited about it until I started remembering how bad the last time was, and how I got all dressed up and ready but in the end it wasn't meant to be. Then things started happening, bad things that got me thinking that I was never going to go to homecoming, never. So today I went to my doctor to make sure the invitation was still on and that I wasn't going to get blown off this time. I laid on the table, held hands with L, and prayed the quick, unintelligible prayers of the brokenhearted.

Then... flicker flicker. Beep beep. Strobe lights and punch. There's dancing in there. Life. With any luck, we'll be dancing until Thanksgiving. Right now, a woman in her thirties is just grateful for the beat.